BUENOS AIRES--There is a certain point in each study abroad semester, I believe, when everyone begins to feel a bit run-down by their host city, and home doesn't look quite so "boring" anymore. I don't know if I've come that far, but I'm getting pretty close. Not to imply that I'm not enjoying my time here, but this city is beginning to run out of things for me to do on a consistent basis.
A lot has happened since I last checked in. I saw Argentina and Brazil play in a "friendly" soccer match at River Plate Stadium. The program group spent a week in Patagonia. And most recently, my parents flew down for a brief, five-day visit.
Just to let you know, Patagonia is a huge region which roughly includes the lower halves of Argentina and Chile. Its terrain varies from the Andes mountains in the west to the Atlantic coast in the east. When you think about it, giving the whole region one name probably wasn't such a good idea considering how vast and different the area is. To get there, we had to hop on a bus and spend about 24 hours traveling each way between Buenos Aires and Villa la Angostura, 25 miles from the Chilean border.
Our lodge was right on the lake. And, although the landscape was beautiful it was easy to understand why, compared with Buenos Aires, Patagonia as a whole has hardly any inhabitants. It's one of the most isolated regions in the world. Beautiful, yes, but it's no great metropolis, that's for sure.
Fortunately for everyone in our group, everyone can at the very least be civil to all others in the program. That may not sound like much, but when you stick 32 or so college students in a lodge for six days, it is very easy to imagine that some hostility would arise. At this point in the semester, people know who they do get along with, and who they do not. We did a lot of fun things on the trip, such as mountain biking, hiking, skiing and even rapelling.
The Patagonia trip was a much-needed break from a city that, despite its charms, easily can get on your nerves. The unusual thing about Buenos Aires is that, in spite of its size (about 12 million people live here), there is not an infinite supply of things to do. This is particularly true on weekends, when there are no classes to break up the time. And the people that write the travel guides know this too. In any travel book about Buenos Aires, the writers will name four, maybe five different neighborhoods to visit. These sites will be more than enough to consume your time if you come here as a tourist. But after a week or so, you tend to run out of new places to explore -- nearly all the other neighborhoods are exclusively residential.
Having my parents come to visit me here was, obviously, an interesting experience. I was glad to see them, and it also broke up the routine which everyone has fallen into. It was also much easier for me that they were not hellbent on seeing everything possible. Taking new visitors around the city, however, does allow you to get a new perspective on things. In a way, it made me realize how truly fortunate I am to be here.
Study abroad is, for my program at least, four months of vacation, occasionally interrupted by an assignment here and there. Not to say that learning does not take place, rather that most of it is outside the classroom. Spending an extended amount of time out of your comfort zone is a healthy experience, provided you are a reasonably flexible person. I've come to learn that Americans, maybe more than any other nationality, have a very large comfort zone.
Let's face it, back in the United States, we've got it all. And to add to that, it's cheaper than other countries. Despite its status as an underdeveloped nation, Argentina in general, and Buenos Aires in particular, are among the most expensive places to live in the world. When a can of beer costs $5 in the dance clubs, it really makes you yearn for home.
Amazingly enough, I've managed to survive for nearly three months in this city. Even more amazing, the semester is more than half-way over. In about a month, people will begin heading home. While I doubt that I will be ready to return that soon, home doesn't seem nearly the routine, ordinary place it did a few months ago. Among its many other values, the experience in Buenos Aires is a lesson in appreciation of the things you have.